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The way students learn at Western is slowly changing as physical textbooks are phased out, and the availability of online textbooks and resources augments what students are learning in the classroom. 

According to John Doerksen, vice-provost of academic programs and students at Western University, Western has seen an increasing trend of students who take online courses over the years, with up to 10 per cent of its courses being offered fully online today. He believes that online materials can enhance students' learning experiences.

Second-year kinesiology student, Ali Reza Aminpour, finds that his online courses allow for more flexibility in his study schedule. Instead of rushing to classes and tutorials, he likes to choose when he will engage in learning.

"Last year, there were too many people in a class," recalled Aminpour. "I also feel like the prof was just going over the content too quickly and some things were unclear ... but for the online version, the notes are always there."

However, Aminpour also thinks that online materials can get confusing and that readings and diagrams may sometimes need extra clarifications from professors in person.

Fourth-year French student, Teresa Furrow, also acknowledges the convenience of online courses, but she prefers attending her classes in person.

"I think I'm more of an oral learner, so it's easier for me to hear somebody talking so I absorb the information better," said Furrow. "You also have the benefit of having the professor right there, so you can ask whatever questions that you need to."

Furrow gave an example of the usefulness of an online presentation tool on OWL called VoiceThread. When uploading presentations, students can re-record and replace audio and video files until the student is satisfied with their work.

Doerksen regards the ability of online learning materials to be personalized as one of its main benefits. Instead of simply transferring text to online PDF files, he believes that creating more personalized and immersive learning materials will help to enrich students' educational experience, such as with open educational resources. 

OERs are free, digital content that can be used for teaching, learning and research. Doerksen pointed to British Columbia as a leader in Canada in terms of OERs. He said that B.C. has developed a wide range of high-quality OERs that have greatly helped students in their learning. 

Although Western does not have an institutional strategic direction regarding OERs, Doerksen explained that the use of online resources is not determined by university administration. Instead, faculty members have the freedom to choose the type of instructional materials that they will be using in their own classrooms.

Doerksen said the university supports its staff in using technology-enabled learning strategies in the classroom. For example, support is offered to faculties who wish to develop blended courses, which are a mixture of traditional and online learning. Western also values classrooms that integrate technology such as Smart Boards. 

"I was really pleased that some of our faculty colleagues did get grant funding through eCampusOntario to develop some OERs," Doerksen said. "My sense is that, in the next number of years, we are going to see more OERs become available."

eCampusOntario is a not-for-profit corporation that promotes the use of technology in teaching and learning environments. Funded by the provincial government, the organization has developed an online portal to allow students to view summaries of and enrol in online courses that are offered by Ontario universities and colleges.

Doerksen believes Western may have up to 150 courses listed on the eCampusOntario portal. In addition, Western has been involved in a few learning research projects with eCampusOntario. Doerksen said the organization has made outstanding progress in the use of online courses.

"I think students have the benefit today to have a richer learning environment,” Doerksen said. “I think the [learning environment] is changing in the context of research that is being done around student learning and partly around student demand itself."

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Grace is a news editor for volume 111 at the Gazette. She is a fourth-year neuroscience student minoring in French studies. If you want to reach Grace, email her at grace@westerngazette.ca

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